Consider this an early Father’s Day tribute to my dad. Put it in the category of “Things I Did When I Was a Kid That My Own Kid BETTER Not Do.”
When I was 12, I had a manageable chore list. Nothing extensive or unreasonable, although at the time I’m sure I thought I was doing the equivalent of those orphans in the Industrial Revolution who worked in a sooty, life-endangering factory for 14 hours at a stretch.
I was responsible for washing the dinner dishes. Vacuuming the living room. Cleaning my room and bathroom.
Scooping dog poop from the backyard.
That was the one. That was the chore I dreaded.
I loved our dog, a mop-headed cocker spaniel-poodle mix named Sophie. But I was bewildered at how a dog the size of a toaster could put out 50 pounds of crap a day.
And I absolutely hated being the one who had to pick it up.
Have dog, will scoop poop
My dad had a very specific rule about clearing dog poop: it had to be done every seven days. No one likes walking around the backyard, he said, feeling lush, velvety grass under their bare feet, and then experiencing a crunch-then-squoosh between their toes.
I understood that. And, since Sophie was my dog, all canine maintenance duties fell to me. Feeding, walking, and generally snuggling (all of which I was happy to do). But the biggest part of the gig was poop scooping.
I don’t even know why I hated doing it that much. I had a nice, wide plastic shovel and plenty of paper lunch bags. It didn’t take much skill to walk in a careful grid, spot the poop, lean down, scoop up the nuggets, and drop them in a bag. You could clear the yard of turd bombs in less than 20 minutes. No big deal.
But I still hated it.
Every Saturday morning, I would conveniently forget the job I had to do outside. I’d hunker down in my room, happily listening to music and reading comics, and then my dad would call to me.
“Seth, it’s time.”
“Time for what?”
“You know what.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Son, please go outside and do your job.”
Selective Amnesia, I believe, is the correct term for my affliction.
“GO OUTSIDE AND SCOOP THE POOP.”
“OK, OK! God, you don’t have to yell.”
I would drag myself out of my room, get my tools (scooper, paper bags, heavy crown of martyrdom), and go outside to grumble my way through filling God knows how many bags with Sophie’s prolific output. Typically, that 20-minute job turned into three hours of oppressed servitude.
And then, one morning, I discovered a way to make the job way more fun.
Let me switch perspectives now, and talk of this particular Saturday from my father’s point of view:
I remember that my son Seth did not enjoy this particular chore when he was young. However, it remains a mystery to me why, for years, the boy would rather spend two hours complaining than the 10 minutes it took to simply do it.
On the Saturday in question, I did request that my son rise, get dressed, get the scooper, and clear the yard of our dog’s droppings. As was his fashion, he complained and procrastinated to an impressive degree, but after the whining was completed, he did go outside, scooper and bag in hand, albeit begrudgingly. I went upstairs to my office to do some work where, as it happened, I also happened to have a view of our back yard.
After a few minutes, I glanced out the window to check on Seth’s progress. My mouth dropped open.
I was, in short, completely flabbergasted by what I was seeing.
I called to my wife: “Robin, you have to come in here.”
“You need to come in here.”
“You need to come in here and look at this.”
“Look at what?”
“Just … you have to see what your son is doing.”
She joined me at the window and suddenly her expression matched mine as we watched in disbelief at what our son, our flesh and blood offspring, was doing.
“Oh, my Lord. Is he doing what I think he’s doing?” she said.
“I can’t believe it.”
“Oh, my Lord. He’s about to do it again.”
“There he goes.”
“OH. MY. LORD.”
My turn again. So, out in the yard, I had no idea my parents were watching me, first in shock, then in anger, then with uncontrollable laughter.
Why were they laughing? Because rather than simply scooping and dropping poop into a bag, I was instead aiming my plastic shovel skyward, drawing back, and flinging the shit over the fence.
Into our neighbor’s yard.
I. WAS FLINGING DOG SHIT. INTO OUR NEIGHBOR’S YARD.
On Saturday morning. In broad daylight.
Unaware my parents were staring from the upstairs window, I continued to wing big ol’ nuggets over the fence, emptying our yard, and filling our neighbors. (The neighbors, by the way, had no dog.)
I developed a variety of techniques. I named them.
The Over the Shoulder.
The Up, Up, and Away.
The Shit Bullet.
With each new toss, my technique gained more artistry. I gave each throw a wind-up, sometimes a leap and spin before a flick of my wrist sent the poop skyward, arcing gracefully in the sky and over the fence.
I was enjoying myself immensely.
I began wishing there was an Olympic event for this. Competitive Poop Throwing.
It hits the fan
Meanwhile, my parents continued to watch, equally shocked and entertained, crying with laughter as they saw me perfect my new talent. After a few minutes, they realized what I didn’t: at some point, our neighbors on the other side of the fence were likely to emerge from their own back door, hoping to enjoy their morning coffee on their patio, and instead get smacked in the face by flying dog shit.
Mom and Dad collected themselves, wiping away the tears of laughter, put on their Angry Parent faces, and opened the window, making me freeze in mid-throw:
“SETH ANDREW TAYLOR, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!?!”
And with that, I was completely and fully busted, my future Olympic career ending before it began.
I don’t really remember the repercussions. I recall being yelled at. (I didn’t know how hard they’d been laughing from inside until years later when they started telling the story to friends, relatives, girlfriends, and basically anybody in town who knew me.) I have a vague memory of being forced to scale our back fence and retrieve all the poop I had sent over. It took forever (there was a lot), and I did so afraid that the neighbors would see me, come out and ask exactly what was going on.
Decades later, my dad still tells this story, and he does so with dramatic flair (despite the fact that his son is now a 46-year-old grown damn man, thank you very much). He relishes every detail, right down to the look on my face when he yelled out the window and I whirled around, instantly knowing I’d been caught doing something — well, just downright gross.
He particularly loves telling this story to my daughter, who never grows tired of hearing it. It’s their tradition. It’s their very own “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (Gather round, kids, it’s time for the story of the Boy Who Sent Poop To The Sky!) Even now, at 15, she laughs hysterically when he spins the tale. The two of them, along with my mom, fall to pieces every time, laugh/crying like idiots. Every. Damn. Time.
As for me, I just sit and listen, remembering, and feeling grateful that my daughter doesn’t have a dog.